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The Bright Side Of Shame – Part IV

Finding Healing for Shame - Living Beyond Promise    

            Some of us come into a world that gives us messages that we are inadequate human beings – unable to complete important tasks of life, like succeeding in school, meeting responsibilities, becoming lovable enough, and generally just not measuring up to expectations.  These messages are easy to buy into – especially when we are children. If we buy into such messages from those around us telling us we are inadequate, our experience of ourselves becomes shame-based. Typically those messages come from parents and significant others who are speaking from their own sense of shame. 

            Then there are those of us who are perceived as being quite capable – even gifted – in potential to achieve the things that will bring what our culture defines as success in life.  Expectations for our performance are set high – often, again, by shame-filled parents and significant others who hope to vicariously live through future accomplishments and become exonerated from a sense of inadequacy by having "produced" this high-accomplishing achiever.  

            In doing either of these, we curse our children to a life of experiencing shame and a sense of inadequacy about themselves – even as we may have experienced this through the course of our own lives.  The companion word for “shame” – a feeling of not being enough as a person, is “blame” – being accused by another of not being enough as a person.  

They go together. Shame-filled persons are blaming persons. That is, unless they are praising those whom they perceive as having the potential of raising them out of their shame.  We are all more intuitive than we and our culture give ourselves credit for. Therefore, those of us who receive this kind of loaded praise also feel the shame-threatening burden of needing to perform to meet the expectations of those who would have us carry away their burden of shame on the back of our glorious performance.  

            We know that failure to perform to expected standards can lead to carrying that burden into the wilderness of a lifetime of failed expectations.  So, why try?  Why not live in the bright light of promise hoisted upon us by others and bought into by ourselves? Such is also the bright light of shame that we have been discussing.  We know we are experiencing this state when we find ourselves paralyzed to move forward, in conscious or unconscious fear of not meeting our potential.  

            Whether we are living our lives under the burden of an immediate or anticipated sense of revealed inadequacy, the overwhelmingly devastating emotional state is the same: it is a life paralyzed by a sense of shame.  The sense of shame can best be defined as the felt experience of not being enough, of being a mistake as opposed to making a mistake. Turn over the rock of any diagnosis of mental illness and you will find the sense of shame. There is no drug that will heal the sense of shame, but there is the potential for healing. This requires that we totally redefine our sense of self and our experience of being. 

Healing shame: redefining our sense of self 

            Our culture is always giving us the message that the secret to feeling adequate as a person is achievement.  From the first messages to a toddler to potty-train early to the outrageous consumer-culture-based notion that Gross National Product is the ultimate standard of a worthy nation, we are being fed a soul-killing raison d'etre that lies at the core of our deepest suffering.  No amount of doing-doing-doing can bring us a sense of worthiness that is anything more than temporary. Under this mandate, we must do more and more to achieve and maintain our worthiness! Doing is not the solution to shame – nor is it the path to becoming enough, as a person. Furthermore, beyond having enough, our use of having more as a symbol of being enough – or being more than – is  contributing to economic slavery and world destruction. We can neither achieve enough, nor acquire enough, to make us feel like we are enough. Doing will not save us. 

            Doing is found in the temporal world.  Being is found outside the temporal world – that is beyond the world of time.  We may have a sense of being in the temporal world, but that is not truly who we are.  We live in a body that is part of a physical world governed by the illusion of time, but our true essence – our spirit, if you will, exists outside and beyond this mechanistic world of time and the doing that leads to achievement.   

            As we are born and begin to manifest our existence in this world of form and time, we develop a mind-tool that exists to allow us to negotiate this three-dimensional reality.  Functioning much like a computer, it learns, labels and stores experiences and develops impressions that help us to survive in this reality. We use it to define our existence as we come to realize it helps us to make fewer mistakes and to fit better into this reality. In time, we forget our Source and begin to believe this mind-tool is who we really are.  The user begins to think he is actually the computer! In the language of psychology, we call this mind-tool the ego.  Indeed, since materialistic schools of psychology have predominated in our culture, the ego has become accepted as essentially synonymous with the self.  It's not. 

            As long as we believe we are the ego – sometimes called the small self – we will live in the illusion and suffering of believing we are not enough - an emotional state we refer to as shame.  The perception is accurate.  As the ego, we can never be enough! The ego is a vehicle for doing; for negotiating the world of time and form. Yet, like a child with a hammer for his first tool, the ego is the first resource of choice for hammering at the gates of perception and reality – we see it everywhere, from the way we negotiate relationships, to how we define what's meaningful, to how we interpret scripture and the lives of saints.  

            Our true identity is found in being; not doing. Doing occurs in the world of time. Ultimately, the process of being exists outside time.  

            Liberation from shame comes with recognizing our true identity – as pure consciousness, or spirit. As we relax and enter the stillness, sitting quietly and withdrawing our mind and senses away from the distractions of this world, we eventually come to an awareness of the Presence that underlies our existence.  We come to recognize our very essence is of that presence. This is not something anybody has to tell us, nor is it something we are encouraged to believe by reading it.  We recognize and know the Source, Essence and Identity of our true existence is found in this Presence.  What's more, as we come into this awareness, we also come into the awareness that all of us are connected and unified – are one – in this Presence.  Having been born into, and distracted for much of our lives, by the illusory world of the senses, we are now reborn in the world of Spirit.  Having done so, our sense of identity is transformed from our being a creature of form to being a creature of spirit. 

Life beyond shame 

            In this, lies our absolution from shame.  Our sense of inadequacy – of being a mistake – is dissolved in the bliss of our oneness with our Creator. We go from trying to squeeze the limitlessness of our true potential through the needle's eye of the ego to recognizing our true heritage in Spirit.  We come to discover our true identity is found in being, not doing. In this state of being, the ego dies away as a sense of personage, becoming merely a simple suit of clothes in which to walk the world without pretense. Having surrendered to this Higher Presence, our doing in the world comes out of inspiration in the fullness of our potential.  After absolution from shame, there is absolution from guilt, which is simpler.  With guilt, we acknowledge our mistakes (actions which cause us and others suffering) and turn our awareness to our Source - our Ground of Being.  As we move into this Source, we move outside the world of action and time (the world of doing) to merge with our higher identity. As our regretted actions become recognized for what they are, our learning and awareness dissipate the energies that maintained the guilt, thus dissolving the cause-and-effect pattern that had originally been set in motion by the actions. 

            In time, as we remember and connect with our Source, we both transcend our sense of immediate worthlessness based upon perceived inadequacy and our sense of ultimate worthlessness based upon our not performing according to perceptions of our promise.  What we do in the world then comes from the creative inspiration of our Source and the outcome of our doing is likewise surrendered to the will of the Source.   

            Working through this process is the greatest gift we can offer to ourselves and our loved ones. Encouraging this process in our children will cultivate lives lived in a state of grace – far beyond the ravages of shame.

Granville Angell   © 06/2007

Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC: local counselor and author of The God-Shaped Hole – A Story of Comfort for The Child in All of Us.  Read his prior articles at www.transitions-counseling.com; contact him at TRANSITIONS: angell(AT)transitions-counseling.com   704-276-1164.

 To call TRANSITIONS/SoulMentors: (704) 276-1164

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